You may often find yourself giving your child snacks between meals or in the school lunchbox, but can snacking promote tooth decay? Which foods are teeth-friendly and which ones should you avoid the next time your child craves a little snack?
Bacteria live in our mouths. When we feast, so do bacteria. Bacteria particularly enjoy breaking down sugars and starches left on the teeth, which leads to the formation of plaque and acid. Acid created by bacteria can damage the teeth if left on the tooth surface for 20 minutes or more. This can lead to tooth decay.
When selecting snacks for your child, read the ingredient label to find out if the snack contains sugars or starches. Select snacks that are sugar-free or unsweetened. Some sugary snacks and drinks to avoid include:
If you do decide to give your child a sugary treat, do so at mealtime rather than as a snack. For instance, after dinner you can serve your child a dessert. More saliva is usually generated around mealtime, which makes it easier for food to be washed away from tooth surfaces.
Sugary foods may be obvious tooth decay culprits. But sticky, chewy snacks can also lead to tooth decay. Foods like granola bars, raisins, oatmeal, and peanut butter tend to linger on the teeth longer and are not easily washed away by saliva. This does not mean that you should avoid giving your child these foods, simply encourage your child to brush after a chewy snack.
Here are some snack options for your child that are both teeth-friendly and healthy:
Give your child fruits and vegetables that have high water content, like:
Limit those that are high in concentrated sugars. (Yes, fruits and vegetables do contain natural sugars.) Some fruits to limit include bananas and raisins. Also encourage your child to brush after eating fruit with high concentrations of sugar.
Low-fat cheese is a good snack option since it triggers the flow of saliva. Examples include:
Soda, juice, and milk contain sugar. While milk is important for a growing child, juice and soda can be replaced with water. Water will not harm teeth and will help rinse away food particles. Fluoridated water is also ideal for preventing tooth decay in children 12 years old and under. Check the label on bottled water to see if it contains fluoride. For young children, plain water at bedtime is a good choice instead of formula, milk, or juice, which can damage teeth overnight.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
Dental Hygiene Canada
Diet and dental health. Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diet-and-dental-health. Accessed May 8, 2017.
Keeping your child's teeth healthy. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/healthy.html. Updated May 2015. Accessed May 8, 2017.
Selecting snacks for toddlers. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/Selecting-Snacks-for-Toddlers.aspx. Updated December 14, 2016. Accessed May 8, 2017.
Smart snacking: treats can be treacherous. Oral Health Kansas website. Available at: http://www.oralhealthkansas.org/pdf/Populations/Snacking-MN%20-%20Copy.pdf. Accessed May 8, 2017
The best and worst foods for your teeth. University of Rochester Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4062. Accessed May 8, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 5/8/2017